A new report on tribal crime data collection activities, put out by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, confirms that tribal land is more violent than non-tribal land in the United States. The report states that in 2010, 4.8 million people lived on reservations or in Alaska Native villages and only 1.1 million of those residents – 0.4 percent of the U.S. population – classified themselves as American Indian or Alaska Native. Yet “the 1,479 suspects investigated for violent offenses in Indian country represented 23 percent of all federal investigations for violent offenses in fiscal year 2010,” the report said. Of those, the majority were violent crimes.
The report goes on to say that the “number of Indian country suspects investigated by U.S. attorneys for violence declined 3 percent, from 1,525 in 2000 to 1,479 in 2010.” Yet “the number of Indian country suspects investigated for property, drug, and other offenses increased 57 percent from 475 in 2000 to 746 in 2010.”
Wind River Indian Reservation in Central Wyoming was one reservation where violence was considered endemic. In 2009 it was chosen as one of four reservations for President Barack Obama’s High-Priority Performance Goal (HPPG), in which resources were pumped into the four reservations to hire more law enforcement personnel in an effort to reduce crime. Before the surge, as the initiative came to be known, six cops patrolled Wind River. Now, there are 25.
The Department of Justice reported that on Wind River crime actually went up 7 perrcent during HPPG. But Assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of Wyoming, Kerry Jacobson, says that’s due to better reporting. Jacobson says her office considers the surge “extremely successful, in the sense that the cases that have been referred to us were of lower level, meaning people weren’t hurt as bad or we had fewer people being killed and our theory was that because there were so many officers they were jumping on situations and were able to stop crime almost before it occurred.” Tribal prosecutors’ case loads increased; there were more misdemeanors, but fewer felonies.
Jacobson also says that for the first time in many years her office is looking into non-violent crimes. “Property crimes were going uninvestigated, or at least under-investigated, because we had too many violent crimes, we couldn’t bother, we couldn’t take the time to prosecute property crimes,” said Jacobson. “The same goes for fraud, embezzlement. In my first 9 years here, we rarely found the time or had the resources to reach a fraud or an embezzlement case because we had too much violent crime.”
According to the report, there were 334 federally and state-recognized American Indian reservations in 2010. Some of them – notably, those in Arizona, South Dakota, and New Mexico – share Wind River’s crime issues. The report is the culmination of the Bureau of Justice Statistics-funded Recovery Act: Tribal Crime Data Collection, Analysis, and Estimation Project, which sought to improve crime reporting from reservations and increase the number of tribes eligible for funds that could be applied to law enforcement programs. In 2010, 144 tribal law enforcement agencies reported their data; up from 12 in 2008. During the same period, Bureau of Justice Assistance grants to tribes increased almost five-fold. However, these grants were significantly smaller than the HPPG funds which Jacobson says benefitted Wind River.